The Dark Souls trilogy, Bloodborne, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice – games that will live in infamy for their notorious difficulty, punishing combat mechanics and tight level design. But standing taller than all of those is the newest game by Hidetaka Miyazaki and FromSoftware, and co-written by George R R Martin, of Game of Thrones fame, Elden Ring. Long thought to be nothing more than a fancy trailer, the game finally released for both modern and previous console generations, alongside PC, and it is huge. So huge, that I don’t foresee a full review coming any time soon. Therefore, without further ado, here are my early thoughts on… Elden Ring.
- Elden Ring is essentially “open world Dark Souls 3“, and while I don’t mean that as an insult, this new design does have its ups and downs. Being open world, with no hard borders between locations as far as I’ve come across, means that every location is simultaneously a beginning zone and an endgame area at the same time. Of course one area might be more challenging than another, but this can make for some wildly inconsistent enemy difficulties. However, the fact you can see a castle, monster or shining light from so far away gives an incredible sense of adventure to explore the unknown, despite the dangers an area may hold. The world itself is massive, full of shortcuts, hidden caves and set pieces to draw your eye.
- Familiar NPC quests return, but they are arguably more frustrating than ever. Named and talkative NPCs can be found across the entire world, and while there is a map, these NPCs (including merchants) are not marked on there. I don’t want to out myself as a pleb, but the game seems to want to be a Western style, big open-world RPG but at the same time, a punishing Dark Souls game. You can place your own markers on the map, which I do see the merit of instead of them being added automatically, but it’s still a frustrating design choice.
- The controls are better than Dark Souls, but in the heat of battle can get a bit clunky. A new ‘guard counter’ acts as a mid way point between a block and a parry, and it is certainly useful. The inclusion of a dedicated jump button is an absolute game changer, and adds much more vertical exploration than previous Dark Souls games (but nowhere near as much as Sekiro and the grappling hook). I could take or leave the crouch mechanic, only as I am not really a stealthy kind of player in these games. Your new horse companion, Torrent, allows for much more rapid transport across the massive world, but I wish there was a way to automatically collect materials while on horseback, just because mashing triangle is tiresome more than anything. I can’t think of a situation where you wouldn’t collect a material.
- Player messages return in the familiar FromSoft fashion, by filling in templates with words. I am well and truly sick of how many “try jumping” and “hidden path ahead” messages there are in EVERY SINGLE CORNER or on EVERY SINGLE CLIFF. I got a slight chuckle out of “try attacking but hole” the first time, but that wore off very quickly.
- The bulk of the game looks fine, but not ground breaking. Allegedly there is a ray tracing patch coming which will obviously bolster the visuals, but the same sort of dilapidated castles, foggy swamps and dark catacombs are here as there were in almost every other FromSoft game. But, the skyboxes are simply incredible, and the design of the world to highlight and draw your attention to far off locales is gorgeous every single time, and I often found myself stopping what I was doing just to look out over the horizon. This is better still when I could think to myself, “Hey, I’ve been there, and that is exactly what it looked like up close.”
- I had the epiphany after some hours of trying the same thing and failing: don’t play this like Dark Souls, play it like Dragon’s Dogma or Assassin’s Creed. If one area is too tough, I would head off somewhere else, attempting to strike a balance between my personal attitude of finishing every location before moving on, and justifying the opposite of that by saying “I’m just going over the hill, so I’m technically in the same area.” With so much to see, battle and collect, there is no reason to stick around getting your ass kicked by one boss in particular. The pawns from Dragon’s Dogma say it best: “’tis not cowardice to flee from battle, ’tis survival.”
- I have two characters going at the moment, both doing very different things in each game. You all know my mantra by now, with FromSoft games or anything else: bigger sword, bigger reward. So it’s only natural that one of my characters – a thicc Amazon warrior named Saxa – has the biggest sword I could get my hands on and hits like a truck. My other is more out of character for me, a scrawny, old man magic user named Walter, who I am having fun with at times but overall miss that sword and board, all-strength build. Both characters can summon spirits to aid them (not the co-op summons, though those also return), and each are fun in their own ways.
So here’s a fun fact: the last “My Early Thoughts…” post I did was on Biomutant, and I never got around to finishing that one. But I can promise with all the blood, sweat and tears I have in me that I will finish Elden Ring, even if it takes me the rest of the year.